I know, I know. How many times will I say I met an author on Backspace? I think it’s kinda like the wise owl in the old Tootsie Pop commercials. The world will never know! That being said, I love meeting all authors but debut authors are a special breed. We get to witness the transformation from aspiring to published and hopefully share in their joy.
It’s easy to share in Camille Noe Pagán’s debut joy because she is so generous with her time and insights!
Please welcome Camille to Women’s Fiction Writers. You’re sure to learn a lot — and think a lot. I know I did.
Interview with author Camille Noe Pagán
CNP: Thank you! It’s still a bit unreal. Seeing my novel on bookshelves has been just as exciting as I expected. Less expected: the fact that getting published didn’t make writing any easier! If anything, now that I’ve been through the editing process, my internal editor is too loud and I’m often sometimes over-critical of my work. Which makes me a much slower writer!
ASN: Your book The Art of Forgetting deals with a woman who experiences brain damage. Do you have a background in this? Personal experience? Research?
CNP: An acquaintance of mine suffered a brain injury several years ago, and I remember hearing that it had affected her personality significantly. I found the situation extremely sad, but I didn’t put too much thought into it. Then, about three years ago, I was assigned a story about brain health for Women’s Health magazine. One of the physicians I interviewed for that story said that the best thing young women could do for their brains wasn’t to take a supplement or follow a special diet, but to wear a helmet when biking or doing other sports and to drive safely in order to reduce their odds of suffering a brain injury is (it’s a leading cause of disability for men and women under the age of 24, and affects an estimated 500,000 women in the U.S. each year). I began combing through medical literature about brain injury—specifically how seemingly “minor” injuries, such as a concussion following an automobile accident or a kick to the head during a group sport like soccer, could profoundly affect a person’s memory and cognition, and their personality, too. It was so engrossing that I wasn’t content to simply cover it as a journalist, and within a few weeks I’d put together what would become the plot for The Art of Forgetting.
ASN: Since this is a blog that draws a lot of aspiring authors (myself included) what was your “process” for writing your novel? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
CNP: I’m somewhere in between. I need to know the basics of my story before I sit down to write, but I don’t plot out every single detail. Instead, I write a couple-sentence summary—sort of like what you find on the Publisher’s Marketplace deals page—to make sure I have the gist of the story in my head. Then I write a longer synopsis, that’s similar to a query letter (I wrote a bit about that on Writer Unboxed: http://writerunboxed.com/2011/06/09/write-your-query-first-for-a-better-book/). When those two elements are in place, I know I have a potential novel on my hands.
ASN: What was your journey like from draft to query to publication?
CNP: I wrote the first draft of Forgetting in four months, mostly at night and during the day in one particularly slow work month. (It was like I was possessed: I had to get the novel out of me, and fast!) After I wrote the first draft, I took a month or so to revise it. Then I spent a month finding an agent—fortunately, I found the perfect match (Elisabeth Weed of Weed Literary) right away. Per Elisabeth’s request, I revised Forgetting again, and we sold to Dutton at auction in December 2009. Of course, the revision process with Dutton took just as long as the entire first draft and querying process—so all in all, it was two years three months, start to finish.
ASN: Can you share with us what you’re working on now?
CNP: I’m still writing magazine stories, although I’ve scaled back on that somewhat, and I have a relatively new blog, theWAHMdiaries.com, which I love working on. I’m also writing a novel that I hope will become my second published book. I’m too superstitious to say much about the subject matter, but I will say that it’s a big change from The Art of Forgetting.
ASN: How do you define women’s fiction?
CNP: I think that’s really a marketing term. From my perspective, women still make up the lion’s share of fiction readers, and for that, I’m grateful—because put simply, as a woman I find it enjoyable and fulfilling to write about women’s lives.
ASN: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
CNP: I’ve said this before, but I really think it’s the most important thing: stop obsessing about word count and start writing. The enormity of an entire novel can be overwhelming (even if you’ve done it before, and I say this from personal experience). If you can write 250 words daily, though, you’ll have a manuscript on your hands in less than a year—and the minute you have an actual draft on your hands, your odds of being published go up 100%.
Camille Noe Pagán’s first novel, THE ART OF FORGETTING, was published by Dutton/Penguin this June. She’s also a journalist specializing in health, nutrition and profiles of interesting and innovative people; she lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and two young kids. Visit her blog at http://theWAHMdiaries.com and her website at www.camillenoepagan.com.